Chapter Seventeen "Reclaim"

Some of you, I think, have been waiting for this for a long time. I hope you enjoy.

Thank you, Lightlacedwithbeauty. You are my biggest and best cheerleader.

This fic is rated M for a reason.

There are moments in our lives that we think nothin' can top. When we're at our fullest, our best, our happiest; when we think there's nothin' in the world that can break us, 'cause we're unbreakable.

And then we break.

And we break.

And we break.

And we don't stop breakin'.

Then we think there's nothin' in the world that can put us back together again. That we will never not be broken.

The day Alice Brandon told me goodbye, I thought I'd never be right again. I thought there was no way I could survive; no way I could contain the brokenness from spillin' out from inside of me. I was drownin' in the deepest, blackest sea.

And then there was a tiny pinprick of light. A little piece of hope, of healin', of heaven. My oldest friend reached through the pitch black and lit my dark with her light. She took my hand, kissed my defeated face, and wrapped herself 'round me, sealin' in all the pieces of me that were threatenin' to slip away. She reminded me that I was not just Alice's castaway. I was Jasper Whitlock. I was someone. I was important, and special, and loved.

I was worth more than what Alice had thrown away.

And now I'm watchin' Bella struggle with the same thing. With feelin' like she's drownin' in an endless downpour of "what if" and regret, and all I want to do is be that hand for her. I want to pull her out and dry her off, hold her up and fill her with the same things she filled me.

She saved me back then, and I want to save her now.

The rain is still comin' down in the torrential fashion that's pretty standard for summer in Houston, and Maggie does not slow as we come up to the ranch. Visibility is mediocre at best, but Bella's relaxed grip on my hands tells me she trusts that I'll get us where we need to go. I steer Maggie away from the barn and take off toward my cabin, which sits closer to the edge of the property, linin' the woods on the far west side. The rain washin' over us is almost as warm as a shower and does little to relieve the heat still swallowin' the air.

I pull Maggie to a stop in front of my cabin and slip off from her back, my boots landin' in a puddle that's formed almost as quickly as the rain. I peer up at Bella, and she's lookin' down on me with an expression I've never seen before. Something' inside of me breaks with it.

Holdin' my hands up, I reach for her. "Come on, darlin'."

Bella leans over and places her hands on my shoulders, allowin' me to grip her hips and lower her to the ground. For a moment, we linger. Her breath spreads over my throat and her fingers tighten 'round my biceps, and I want to pull her closer, drag my lips across the wet expanse of her jaw.

"Go on inside and dry off," I say instead, gettin' hold of myself. "I need to get Maggie back to the barn."

"Jasper," she says, her fingers diggin' into my skin, holdin' me tighter, as if she's afraid to let me go too.

"I'll be right back. Three minutes, tops."

Bella nods and takes a reluctant step back from me, her fingers slippin' away and leavin' my skin cold despite the heat. I climb back up on Maggie's back and take the reins, but before I give her the command to go, I catch Bella's gaze once more. Her hand is arched over her brow to protect her eyes from the rain, her dress soaked and stickin' to her body like spandex, her hair hangin' in soppin' clumps down her back, but when she smiles up at me, she's a million miles north of pretty.

I don't say a thing as I snap the reins and steer Maggie toward the barn. I don't take it easy either. We're at a full out run, the rain peltin' me in the face, stingin' and burnin' as it drums my skin. But I'm worlds away from carin' 'bout that right now. All I care 'bout is gettin' back to that pretty girl. The one waitin' on me. On me. Not a man with a fancy car and clothes, and nails that stay clean longer than three seconds. Not an educated scholar who challenges her intellectually, always uses proper grammar, and doesn't sound like his tongue's too thick to enunciate correctly. She's waitin' on me, just your average Texas boy who's a little bit cowboy and a whole lot southern. And I can't wait to get back to her and show her just how good for her a filth-covered, military-wizened, lazy-talkin' gentleman can be.

I pull Maggie to a stop just inside the stables, jumpin' down onto the dusty ground and go to work, feverishly unstrappin' the saddle and mouthpiece. It's hard to concentrate on what I'm doin' with my mind spurnin' image after image of her lookin' up at me in the rain, her cheeks pink and smile soft, hands stretchin' out toward me and her breath whisperin' my name. My fingers fumble and my mouth curses them. After several pained minutes, I've gotten the saddle completely off and am startin' toward Maggie's stall, when I hear a shrill whistle come from the other end of the barn.

"Shit," I say to myself, steppin' back from Maggie long enough to catch sight of Pa near the front office. This was definitely not in my plans when I'd told Bella three minutes.

"Boy, what you doin' puttin' her back in with mud all up her legs like that? You want her to be all uncomfortable when it dries on?"

"No sir," I say, but there's a part of me that curses him. Ain't nobody got time for this shit when Bella's waitin'.

"Then ya better get her cleaned off right quick."

I tighten my grip 'round the reins and work to hold in the groan tryin' to squeeze its way out. No matter how many years pass, when he talks to me like that, I can't help but obey. Workin' my hardest not to frown, I move to hang the saddle back on the stand and turn to lead Maggie to the horse showers, when Mama's voice rings out from over where Pa stands.

"What in the world are ya doin', scoldin' that boy again, Pa?"

I glance up at where Mama stands, her hands on her hips and her stare intent on Pa.

"Lookit that mare." He gestures to Maggie's muddy legs. "He was just goin' to put her in like that."

Mama glances up at the roof of the barn, like she's callin' to a higher power. She glances back at Pa again. "I'm goin' to smack some sense into you one of these days, I swear. Yer goin' to let that boy go now, 'cause Jasper here's got a lady to tend to. You ain't goin' to make him behave ungentlemanly by keepin' her waitin', are ya?"

Pa looks up, his brow raised and a slight twinkle in his eye, as he says, "A lady, huh? Is that right, boy?"

I swallow, 'cause it doesn't matter how old you get, talkin' 'bout girls with your folks is still mortifyin'. "Yes, sir."

Pa's brows rise further. "And leavin' ol' Maggie sittin' in filth is just you tryin' to be gentlemanly, like we taught ya?"

"Yes, sir."

"Hmm." Pa lifts a hand and rubs it over his chin.

"Oh, for the love of sweet baby Jesus," Mama mutters.

Pa shakes his head, tryin' to hide the smile Mama's reaction brings out of him. He always seems like such a stern man. Except with her. "Well then, what ya waitin' for, boy?"

I freeze, unable to comprehend what he said with what I thought he was goin' to say.

"You gone deaf in the last five seconds?"

"N—no, sir?"

"Well, then, git to it! Ain't no Whitlock ever left a lady waitin'."

I blink a few times, his words still sinkin' in, but when they do, my body straightens and my feet snap to attention. "Yes, sir!" I call out, as I whirl 'round, my body propellin' me forward into the torrential downpour. My hand comes up to hold my hat onto my head, and I make a break for the cabin, not unaware of the chuckles and peals of laughter echoin' behind me.

I don't care.

They can laugh, they can pick fun, 'cause for the first time in a long time, I'm runnin' toward somethin' instead of away from it. When I'd joined the Army, I'd been runnin'—from my Pa, from a relationship I knew deep in my heart wasn't the one, from loneliness I didn't know how to fix. And once in the Army, I'd been runnin' too—from disappointment, and hurt, and enemies with guns.

Sometimes it's good to run, and sometimes it's good to stand still.

I'm ready to stand still.

My heart is clamborin' against my ribs as the cabin comes into view. I round the corner to the back entrance, my feet skiddin' and splashin' in the mud as I try to stop. My heavy breathin' catches in my chest and my gaze freezes on a sight I hadn't expected.

Instead of goin' inside like I'd asked, Bella stands in the middle of my back deck, face tilted to the sky and hands palm up and stretched out at her sides, rain fallin' over her cheeks and through her hair, trailin' down her body like sin. It follows every dip and curve, showin' me all she has to offer underneath those scraps of fabric. But it isn't the way her dress melts into the shape of her breasts and hips, or how she looks like she'd be softer than silk to touch that captures my attention; it's her expression.

Her skin is unblemished, slick porcelain; the stress lines that normally wrinkle her forehead and pinch her eyes are gone, with only peace replacin' them. She's open wide, as if her sweepin' arms have released her demons, and the rain is washin' away all the walls she's constructed over the years, like they were made of sand instead of diamond all along. I stare at her, at the way she's comin' alive, at the way the water baptizes her back into the person she's always been.

I can't help but move closer to her, to better take in the sight of her becomin' whole again. I'd like to take credit, to say it's me that got her here, but I know it's not. This is all her. It's always been her. She's always been the stronger, brighter star of the two of us.

I step forward and a stick snaps under my boot. Bella's head tips up and she turns in my direction. Her hands fall slowly back to her sides, but the expression is still there. She's still open, and she's still mine.

She moves to the edge of the deck, and I follow, standin' on the ground while she stays two steps up. Our eyes are level now, and hers are open wide.

"How come you didn't go in?" I ask. "Was the door locked?"

Bella shakes her head. "I just love the rain," she explains. "It's . . . liberating, somehow. Like . . . if I can just stand out here and wait for it to end, all my shit, all my ugly, will be washed away with it. You know?"

My heart twists at her words, at the connotation that she still thinks she's filthy, faded, and all I want to do is show her how she shines. I don't answer her question. I don't have an answer, 'cause I've never really thought of rain that way. It's always just been wet and annoyin' and causes a huge mess on the ranch. But as I look at her and watch the way the water pours over her, causin' her hair to hang in stringy strands that cling to the side of her face, I can see by the light in her eyes that all that matters is that she does.

"Come here," she says, reachin' out a hand to me. "Let me show you."

I lift my hand, and her fingers slip between mine, as she pulls me up one step closer to her. She doesn't hold on, though; she just slides her fingers in and out, in and out, like she's tryin' to convince herself I'm real and she's really touchin' me. I raise my other hand and brush the backs of my fingers over her cheek, lettin' my thumb slip along the bone, and I think I'm doin' the same kind of convincin' for myself.

Bella closes her eyes and lifts her face to the sky once more, lettin' the rain coat her mouth, nose, and cheeks. "Can you see it?" she whispers. "Can you see it all washing away?"

I shake my head, even though she can't see me. "No, I can't. 'Cause you look just as pretty as you always have to me."

Bella lowers her face, lets out a tremblin' breath, and leans into my touch, her lids squeezin' tighter. Drops hotter than the rain trail over my fingers and alarm punches me in the chest.

"Are you cryin'?" I ask. "Why?"

A tremblin', frustrated laugh escapes her lips. "Because I want this so much, I want you, and I'm still so fucking scared."

"Don't be scared, darlin'," I say, brushin' my thumbs across her slick skin. "I won't hurt you."

A small, sad smile pulls at her lips, and her eyes slip open. "I know," she says. "That's not what I'm afraid of."

"Then what?"

She lifts her gaze to mine, and I see all her thoughts swirlin' there behind her stare. "What if . . . what if I hurt you?"

"You won't."

Bella's grip on my hand finally tightens. "But what if I do? I have . . . issues. What if I mess this all up? What if I—"

I raise our hands to my mouth and press my lips against the back of her fingers. "Then I'll forgive you." She starts to speak again, but I press a finger to her rain-soaked lips. "I'll forgive you," I whisper, rubbin' back and forth, tracin' the shape of her pout. "And then I'll hold you. And I'll kiss you." I drop a small kiss to the middle of her wet palm. "And then I'll forgive you again. 'Cause that's what people who love each other do."

"Jasper . . ." She draws in a trembling breath. "I don't know how to do this."

"Neither do I."

She glances up at me, blinkin' as fat drops stick to her lashes. "But you always seem so sure, so calm. About everything."

I reach up and remove my hat, droppin' it to the ground at our feet and lettin' the rain fall over my face, like her. 'Cause I want her to see me, really see me. I want her to know that I'm not always sure, that I'm not always confident. That I'm not this perfect picture of cool she thinks I am, and that she scares me in all the best ways too. I run my hand over my eyes, wipin' the water away, and then I reach down, takin' hers and pressin' it to my chest, right over where my heart's racin'.

"You feel that, darlin'?"

She nods and spreads her fingers wide over the expanse of my wet shirt. The heat of her sears through the fabric and scorches the skin below.

I swallow and dip my head when I say, "I ain't calm."

Our stares connect, and, for several seconds, I don't think either of us breathes. Then Bella closes her eyes and touches her forehead to my sternum. The hand she has on my chest clenches into a fist and she pulls against me, forcin' me up the last step 'til our bodies align, knee to thigh to hip to chest.

Her breath trembles against my throat when she says, "Me neither." She takes my hand, pulls it up, and slips it under the strap of her dress and down to where it covers her chest. "Can you feel mine?"

And I can. I can feel the subtle thud, thud, thud beneath her ribs; I can feel the deep rise and fall of her breath. I can feel the way her skin pebbles under my touch, and I want to run my fingers over ever inch of it.

I nod, water trailin' over my face and drippin' from my mouth and chin. I touch my lips to the top of her head and close my eyes. "I feel it," I say, pressin' my hand harder against her. "I feel you. I feel everything."

Her grip tightens once more, her exhales speedin' against my skin. And suddenly, those breaths turn to kisses: small, soft, warm. Bella's hands rise to the sides of my neck, fingers tracin' my jaw and hairline, as she continues to pepper my upper chest, my jaw, my chin, each peck burrowin' itself into my soul.

I lower my face, leavin' lip prints of my own to her temple and cheek. Then I raise my hands and cup her face, liftin' 'til I own her mouth. My lips slide over hers, slick and hard. I don't take my time bein' gentle, bein' slow, 'cause there's somethin' inside of me that needs her tongue like air. Bella's body falls into me as her lips part, not hesitantly, not testin'ly, but like she's drownin' too.

I breathe her in. I swallow her. I take all of her.

My tongue brushes hers, and she is sweetness and light, bitterness and dark, and I want to consume every bit of her.

The rain is still comin' down hard, but I hardly notice the way it creeps between us, sneakin' through our fingers and coatin' our tongues, 'cause all I feel and taste is her. Bella's hands glide over my shoulders and down my arms, her fingers circlin' and caressin' my muscles as she goes. Goosebumps follow her path along my skin, and I wrap my arms 'round her tighter, pullin' her in 'til I can feel every one of her breaths like they're my own.

My shirt clings to my body like a warm, wet rag, but I can still make out the heat of her hand when she slips it up underneath, spreadin' out over my ribs and burnin' like kindlin' in a fire. My breath catches, but she doesn't stop. Her palm slips up my side and over my pec, restin' just over my heart, where I'd placed it earlier. She pulls back slightly, leavin' her forehead against mine, our hard breathin' shared on the rain between us.

"Your heart's still racing," she whispers, as if in awe that she affects me this way. "It feels like it's going to break through your chest."

"Let's find out if it will," I say. "Kiss me again."

Bella tips her chin, but she doesn't kiss me outright; instead, she slides her lips over mine, back and forth, back and forth, 'til I can do nothin' but let my mouth drop open, and my heart gallops away faster and faster with each pass. Her teeth close lightly over my bottom lip, and I groan, movin' my hand from her chest to her neck, tryin' to pull her in once more. But she holds me back with the palm on my chest. I look down on her through the rain, and her cheeks are tinged the most perfect shade of pink. Her eyes meet mine, and it isn't all fear I see inside of them.

I start to speak, but she shakes her head and places a finger against her lips.

She glances down, and her hand starts to move beneath my shirt, down, down, down my stomach, fingers catchin' on every rise and fall of every muscle. My abdomen clenches and begs, but I revel in the sweet torture of every slow inch.

After a moment, her fingertips trace the skin just above the band of my jeans, and then they leave and grasp the bottom of my shirt. Bella looks up again, and it's almost like she's askin' permission, but she doesn't actually speak at all, doesn't wait for me to answer. She just holds my eyes and starts to lift.

Saturated fabric slips over my sides and stomach, and I raise my arms as our eyes stay locked, and she slowly pulls the fabric up. Once it clears my head, she drops it with a plop onto the wooden deck, and her fingers fall back to my body, touchin' so tentatively, like she's learnin' every muscle and scar for the very first time. And, somehow, it's like she's touchin' beneath my skin instead of on top of it, burrowin' in and becomin' part of me. My breaths are gasps and pants as she tattoos herself onto my body.

I ache to grasp her tightly, to plaster myself to her and devour her whole, but instead, I touch her just as softly as she does me, tracin' my fingers along the top of her shoulder and movin' the strap of her dress over 'til it slips off the side. Her skin is slick and warm, beggin' for my mouth. So, I move forward and lower my lips to the shoulder I just bared, tastin' the mix of sweat and rain on my tongue. Bella's forehead drops to my shoulder and her hands slide 'round to my back, fingers diggin' into my sides, and I bite back a hiss as her nails pierce my skin and her breath heats my flesh beyond what the weather does.

Thunder rumbles way in the distance but the relentless rain continues to pour, still not providin' any relief from the oppressive heat. Thoughts of how I should be a gentleman and take her inside before we die of heat stroke cross my mind.

"We should go inside, Mia," I pant, my hands clenchin' against her back and my body sprialin'with her touch.

Bella shakes her head, her forehead slippin' over my skin. "I don't want to go inside. I want to stay right here."

I move back slightly, catchin' her eyes. "Why?"

She smiles. "I like it when you kiss me in the rain."

I study her for a moment, my eyes rakin' over her wet form, lingerin' on the way the fabric clings to her, lettin' me know outright that she ain't wearin' a bra. I step into her, and I feel more than hear her breath catch, and then I bend down to touch her lips gently with mine. She sighs and closes her eyes.

"That the kind of kissin' you meant, darlin'?"

Bella bites her lip, but she doesn't respond beyond that gesture.

"Or maybe this?" I say, and I kiss her a little longer, touchin' my tongue to her top lip, tracin' lightly and takin' a quick dip inside.

Bella's breath quickens.

"Or how 'bout this?" I duck my head, run my lips down the front of her neck, and suck the water from the dip in her throat.

"Oh, God." Bella's head drops back and I catch it carefully in the palm of my hand, draggin' my mouth up the front of her neck and down the side again. "All of that," she whispers. "I like all of that."

Her chest heaves and glistens in the rain, and I want to taste it too, so I run my tongue all the way down the center between her breasts. Bella gasps, and her hands come up, fingers diggin' into my short hair as she holds me against her, and she lifts her leg to hook over my hip. Every part of me ignites and I can't hold it back any longer. I cup my hand 'round the back of her knee to hold her right there as I back her up against the cabin wall. I take one of her hands from my head and hold it up against the sidin' next to her face, our fingers intertwinin' and clampin down, and then I press the rest of me into her.

Bella's body goes rigid and her head thumps back against the wall as she groans out, "Jesus. Do that again . . ."

And I do. I roll my hips, and this time she grounds out "fuck" and my name, and then she grabs my tags and pulls me hard into her, her mouth already open and her tongue between my lips before I have a chance to think. It is hard and deep and stealin' every single bit of sanity I have left.

My hand slips to her hip and I dig my fingers in, pullin' her so hard against me it almost hurts. Her hands drop to my belt, fumblin' with the clasp, and then she's tuggin' against it, a sound of pure frustration risin' in her throat. I move back a few inches and make quick work of the leather strap, whippin' it away and hearin' it clatter against the wooden deck somewhere behind us. My hands go to her face and I take her mouth once more. Bella works the snaps and zipper on my jeans and then she tugs at the fabric 'round my hips. It barely moves.

Bella huffs. "Doing this in the rain is sexy as fuck, but I can't get these damn pants off."

I smile into her mouth and reach down to take her hands away from my jeans and place them around my neck. "Just hold on a minute, darlin'."

And as she stretches her fingers up into my hair, her mouth and tongue workin' lazily with mine, I remove my boots and work my way out of my plastered on jeans. I've become somewhat adept at removin' soakin' wet clothin' over the years, bein' as Houston is prone to rains that come out of nowhere, so this feat doesn't take me long. And then I stretch up against her once more, my body, clad in only my boxers now, melds perfectly into hers.

"God, you feel good," Bella says, her voice only a whisper and her cheeks as pink as a rose.

I kiss the side of her face and neck, and her hands trail down my back, slippin' along my wet skin and makin' me shiver with each scrape of her nails. I wrap my arms 'round her, bringin' her as close as I physically can, even though it's nowhere near close enough. No matter how tightly I hold her, no matter how hard I pull, there is too much still between us: her dress, the rain, air. I want it all gone. I need it all gone.

As my mouth works the line of her collarbone down to the cleavage peekin' from the top of her clothin', my fingers stretch, findin' and loosenin' the tie of her dress. Once it's just strings in my palm, I lift my hands and push both straps down her arms, feelin' the way the wet fabric protests against her skin, how it clings to her breasts, bunches at her hips, and catches at her thighs. I let my fingers drag along her wet skin all the way down. The splash the fabric makes as it finally falls to the ground 'round her feet is music to my ears. And now there is nothing left, just her skin and my skin, her heart and my heart, her heat and my heat.

I pull back and look down at her, at all of her. Water rolls over her pebbled flesh, every bend and crest slick with rain. My hands trail up her body, tracin' the wet curve of her waist, the ridges of her ribs, the fullness of her breasts, the stiffness of her nipples, and although it is all beautiful, all invitin', I don't linger, I don't stop. My fingers ghost the line of her jaw and my palms rest against the sides of her neck, and I press my forehead to hers, closin' my eyes just to pause for a moment, to remember what this feels like, what we feel like, to revel in the surrender echoin' through me and her. Because that's what this is: surrenderin', givin' in, givin' everything. This is four years worth of rightin' wrongs and fixin' mistakes. Four years of knowin' this girl was meant to be mine but thinkin' I'd never have her. And this is two hours worth of thankin' God I finally do.

Bella's fingers trace my face, followin' the curves of my cheeks like tears, as she says, "Be with me, Jasper."

I open my eyes and lock on hers. Her lashes are spikey and stuck together from the rain, but the brown of her irises gut me to the core. There is so much fear in them, but there is also desire, acceptance, and love. "I am with you."

"Be with me," she breathes again, and I finally get what she's sayin'.

Last night she asked for somethin' very, very different. I know why this is significant for her.

"I'm with you," I whisper, and then I lean in to kiss her.

Bella sighs into my mouth, and I take her hands, slip my fingers between hers, and press them against the wall beside her head. But this time I'm gentle, I'm careful, 'cause I don't think she's had a lot of careful in her life, and she deserves at least that from me.

Slowly, I line my body up with hers, and her slick, warm chest glides against mine, nipples just barely ghostin' my skin, but it's enough to set my insides aflame. I kiss her slow, and I kiss her deep, and I let her hands slip from mine and explore my body any way they like. 'Cause I want her to know that I'm hers, and I'm hers in any way she wants me. Her fingers skate over my shoulders and down my chest, they trace my sides, my pecs, and the V of muscle that disappears into my boxers. But she doesn't go lower yet, even though it's obvious I'm strainin' for her there too.

Bella breaks our kiss and runs her lips over my chin and along my jaw, sneakin' down my throat to the juncture where my shoulder and my neck meet. She kisses all along my collarbone to the center of my chest.

She kisses my dogtags.

She kisses the skin above my heart.

Then she stands back straight, meets my eyes, and then leans in slowly and kisses my mouth again too.

Her fingers drop to my boxers and mine fall to her panties, and together we start to push, 'til they are nothin' but forgotten fabric at our feet along with the rest of our clothes. I cup my hands 'round her hips and lift her up onto mine, and she wraps me up in her, but I don't push her back up against the wall.

She deserves better than the wall.

I turn and carry her to the large, wooden table Pa, Peter, and I built years ago out of a giant oak that was downed in a hurricane. A long cushioned bench at least three feet wide stretches out along side, and I lay her there, carefully, my hand nestled behind her head. She gazes up at me as I hover over her, rain peltin' my back and trailin' over my sides to her stomach, but her face is perfectly protected under a small eave and mine. Her eyes are wide and bright.

"Is this okay?" I ask, meanin' the way we're positioned, with me in the dominant spot over her.

She doesn't speak; instead, she gives me a small smile, cups her hand 'round the back of my neck, and pulls me down on top of her, my body fittin' tight against hers and my hips droppin' between her thighs. It is so warm and so wet; I shudder from head to toe just from the hint of her.

Bella's hands glide over my face and my shoulders, and I study her, the way her mouth is swollen and pink, how her face and chest are flushed, and how her skin is dotted with tiny pearls of moisture. And all I can think is that I don't ever want to look at anything else. And then all I can think is in a few days, everything else is the only thing I'm goin' to get to see.

And I want to stay.

I want to stay.

I've never wanted to stay more in my life.

And like she knows I'm startin' to think beyond this moment, Bella pulls me back by grabbin' my tags again, and she makes me focus on her eyes before she slowly takes my mouth. I close my lids and I let myself be led. Away from what's comin'. Away from all the things we can't control. And toward the things we can.

We are a blur of limbs, and touches, and kisses to shoulders, fingers, and breasts. Her hips move gently under me, and I slip through her, carefully, unintentionally, but in no way less stimulatin'. Sensation sparks from every part of me, twistin' my insides and clenchin' my thighs. I grip the cushion beside Bella's head, knuckles white against the blue and white plaid, and I swallow every breath she gives me. They are hot and heavy against my tongue, and her thighs hug me like they never want to let me go.

I don't want them to. I don't ever want them to.

And then Bella presses her fingers hard against my lower back, shiftin' her hips down at the same time, and suddenly I'm slippin' into her instead of through. My breath comes out in a choked, gaspin' groan, and I freeze. I don't have words, and I don't have thoughts for how it feels. It's more than heat, more than wet, more than every experience I've had up to this point. It's Bella, and it's me, and we're we. And that is more than everything.

Bella's palms move up and down my back, showin' me how, tellin' me it's okay, and so I follow her, I move with her, above her, inside her. And it's like a thousand pleasure points are ignited inside of me at the same time. She is everywhere 'round me and inside of me too. Her breath spreads over my face, her hands grip my sides, her thighs encase my hips tighter, her warmth wraps me like a gift, and my need for her embeds itself under my skin.

I'm lost. I'm found. I'm alive in so many ways I haven't been in the last four years.

But I can tell it's not that way for Bella. I feel the way she tenses beneath me, and one look into her face tells me why. I see the lingerin' fear there, the way she's affected when she's not in control. I realize at this moment that this is not a gift she gives lightly: her submission, her surrender. But she's givin' it to me. And while I can see she wants to give, she is still uncomfortable with me—anyone—holdin' this much power in the palm of my hand. It's as if she's handin' me her soul and is now beggin' me not to break it again. She's tryin' so hard to be more for me, to be unbroken when she's splintered to the point of shatterin', but she doesn't understand that I don't need more. I just need her, all of her, as a whole or in a bag of scattered, jagged pieces.

I reach back and wrap her legs 'round my waist, and shift, liftin' us both so we're sittin', my back against the edge of the table.

Bella frowns, the rain pullin' against her brows and lashes. "What's wrong?" she says, breathless.

"Nothin', sweetheart," I say, brushin' the tangled strands of wet hair off her forehead. "I just wanna see you ride."

She doesn't question my words, but I can see in her eyes that she knows what I'm really doin'. Her gaze softens, and she reaches forward, cuppin' her hands 'round my face. Our lips touch, and she tucks her warm body up against mine. I feel her "thank you" in every kiss. She is tender, careful, and I am too as I trace the line of her spine with one hand. And then with the other, I guide her hips back over me. She lets one hand fall between us, wraps her fingers 'round me to hold me steady, then slips down onto me again, and then she rides.

She rides slow, and she rides smooth, hips swivelin' as she leans back, steadyin' herself with her hands on my knees. I watch her as she moves, the way her chest juts out toward me, how the rain rolls down her body, through the valley of her breasts and followin' the path of her abdomen to where we're joined. And she is so beautiful, the way she tilts her head back and closes her eyes, the way her mouth falls open and she loses herself in the feel of me, of us. I can't help but trace an identical path down her body with the tips of my fingers. I follow the line of her sternum, lingerin' a bit at her breasts, and move lower, swirlin' her belly button and connecting the dots between the freckles on her stomach. And then I move down, but when I get there I don't leave; I stay. I stay and I swirl my thumb where I know she needs it.

Bella stretches up and wraps her arms 'round my neck, pressin' our mouths together as I work her and she rides me. I hold her tight and close, because finally, finally, I have her. And it's not just one part of me that has her, that's enveloped by her; it's all of me. Every single part. Wrapped up tight and warm and safe with every part of her.

And I'm breakin' again.

I'm breakin' in the best way.

I'm a live wire, sparkin' all over the ground, and Bella's the only thing that can contain me. I wrap her up, I pull her in and down and over, and I do this time and time again 'til my hands ache and my body's as tense as a snake, and she quakes and trembles and calls my name into the storm. And as my body gives up, quits fightin' against what it needs, I hold her tight. I just hold her, 'cause here, even as the rain is relentless and seemin'ly never-endin', there's sunshine in the paths her fingertips take over my body, in the embrace her arms surround me with, in the fire her kiss ignites inside of me. And, like Bella said, there is healin' and cleansin' in the rain too.

It washes everything: the very last of the regret, of the shame, of the filth. It all falls away and spreads over the wood of my deck and through the grass below, absorbin' into the earth. And as we sit there, still entangled with one another, still breathin' hard, and touchin' and whisperin' and healin', the rain starts to slow and a peek of sun breaks through the clouds in the distance.

Bella's arms move across my shoulders, and she leans back a little, her gaze meetin' mine. It is still so hot, so stiflin'ly heavy, but I have never felt lighter.

"I really love the rain," she says, and her eyes sparkle in the deepest brown, tellin' me she loves somethin' else even more.

I brush my thumb softly over her cheek, revelin' in the way she looks so clean, so whole, and prettier than the drops of water sparklin' with the entire spectrum of color hangin' off the nearby leaves.

And, for the first time, I love the rain too.

Let's just all assume Bella is on the pill, okay?

(Did anyone else notice that Jasper only calls Bella "beautiful" when he thinks about/sees her during or after sex? Why do you think that is? ;))

Until next time, XOXO